“I have long-supported [biennial budget] legislation and am eager to begin renewed work on this proposal… But the process reform will achieve little if we don’t address the underlying problem: the ideology of big government. As long as Washington operates under the idea that the federal government is the first and best solution to all our problems, then our budget will always tend to be too large, too hard to manage, and place too heavy a burden on the economy.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered an opening statement today at a Committee hearing on budget process reform to express his support for switching to a two-year budget cycle—known as biennial budgeting—and to begin renewed work on the proposal, which he has previously co-sponsored.
Sessions' remarks, as prepared, follow:
“Thank you, Chairman Conrad. I look forward to working with you to reform and strengthen the budget process.
One of the most important reforms we can achieve is the adoption of a biennial budget. I have long-supported such legislation and am eager to begin renewed work on this proposal. This may just be the year when we can get this done.
However, before beginning this discussion today, I would like to offer a bit of context.
Many have said that the congressional budget process is broken. In my view, however, the problem is not that the budget rules won’t work but rather that Congress has refused to follow them—despite the legal requirement to do so.
For two consecutive years, the Senate has simply refused to adopt a budget resolution. It’s been 888 days. We’re not passing appropriations bills. We’re funding the government with stopgap measures or cramming all our spending bills into one big omnibus. This is no way to run a budget or a government.
Federal spending has reached nearly $4 trillion a year, and almost half of that amount borrowed. Yet, the myth persists in Washington that we can manage this mammoth budget through last-minute deals, struck in closed-door meetings, rushed to a vote under threat of panic. But we can’t—and we shouldn’t—operate our nation’s finances in this way. Especially not during a time of fiscal and economic crisis.
Americans deserve an honest budget, publicly produced, with amendments offered and Senators voting. Producing such a budget is one of our most fundamental duties. And in these difficult times we should be re-dedicating ourselves to that commitment—in no way setting it aside. Now is the time to strengthen the budget process—not abandon it. This supercommittee of 12—which has some of our finest members in it—cannot, in a few months, be expected to perform the duties of the entire Congress.
Earlier this year, I authored a measure to make it more difficult for Congress to skirt its responsibilities. It would raise threshold for passing appropriations bills in the absence of a budget.
I believe this is a needed reform. The Senate should not spend taxpayer dollars without a plan for doing so. The American people expect the Senate to put forward an honest, public budget plan that outlines how this nation’s finances will be handled. That budget should go through regular order, requiring only a simple majority, and it should be subject to extensive amendment and debate. There is a growing frustration on the minority side that amendments are being blocked to an unprecedented degree.
But I strongly believe we can improve the existing system by switching to a two-year budget cycle. This approach will make it easier to save money and perform effective oversight. Under the current system, an executive agency has to begin working on its budget for next fiscal year before the current budget has been adopted or approved. A biennial budget would bring an end to these overlapping budget cycles.
Additionally, by switching to a two-year plan, it will be easier for agencies to reduce waste and conduct long-term planning. But the greatest advantage offered by a two-year budget cycle is the enhanced oversight.
As it is, I believe the Budget Committee has a duty to perform careful oversight of executive branch spending. We must search through the federal government for waste, inefficiency, and overreach. But the adoption of a biennial budget provides a chance to make this duty more explicit, and to significantly increase the Budget Committee’s oversight authorities.
In a two-year budget cycle, vigilant federal oversight can be the focus of the second year. We owe the taxpayers nothing less. In order to balance our budget we are going to need conduct an exhaustive search for savings. A biennial budget offers the opportunity to increase the time and resources devoted to that crucial task.
But the process reform will achieve little if we don’t address the underlying problem: the ideology of big government. As long as Washington operates under the idea that the federal government is the first and best solution to all our problems, then our budget will always tend to be too large, too hard to manage, and place too heavy a burden on the economy.
Members of this chamber owe the American people more than just a strengthened budget process. They owe the American people a strengthened commitment to the principles of limited government and individual responsibility. We face tough challenges ahead. But if we face them honestly, and in keeping with our values, then I have no doubt that our nation will thrive and prosper.”